Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Beauty and Wisdom of Rosanne Cash

This past weekend my friend Kerry and I attended a concert by Rosanne Cash at the State Theatre in Sydney. It was a great performance by a very gifted singer/songwriter.

Cash was in Australia as part of the Sydney Festival, and following is how the festival’s program booklet described her “Black Cadillac” concerts of January 6-8:

After a rapturously-received series of UK and US live dates, Rosanne Cash comes to Sydney Festival.

Cash’s Black Cadillac, perhaps the most compelling album of her distinguished career, was released earlier [last] year. She wrote it over the roughly two years in which she lost her father Johhny Cash, her stepmother June Carter Cash, and her mother Vivian Liberto Cash Distin. With this album, Cash confronts her family legacy as never before, while pursuing her own bold creative path with renewed commitment.

[Cash’s Black Cadillac concert tour] invites audiences on a stirring trip through images, sounds, words, and music, weaving interpretations of American masters and the Carter-Cash heritage through her own rich song catalogue. Sound design, spoken word, and video projection intertwine with acoustic and full band performances to give dramatic context to the stories the music tells.

Andrew Taylor of Sydney's Sun-Herald, notes that “Black Cadillac: In Concert was a fine, if gentle, musical journey led by an unexpectedly humorous, modest leader.” Cash’s banter with her band mates and the audience was “warm and self-deprecating,” a trait which Taylor found “surprising” for an American performer. Her vocals were described by Taylor as “warm and woody.”

In describing the music of Rosanne Cash, I’d have to use the word “beautiful.” It’s a beauty that flowers from the authenticity of both her music and her life.

Now, I realize that “authenticity” is one of those words that’s thrown around so much that it easily becomes devoid of any significant meaning. It’s probably helpful, therefore, to define what I mean by this term.

I'll start by saying that I think it’s safe to say that all of the great spiritual traditions understand authenticity as the embodiment of self-awareness, self-acceptance, and honesty.

Accordingly, an authentic human life is a life in touch with the creative, loving, and sustaining energy that infuses all things; a life in touch with its own truth as well as the collective truths of humanity. It’s a life open to ambiguity and paradox; a life dedicated to those things at the heart of the human (and thus spiritual) endeavour – including the willingness to risk being vulnerable so as to connect with others.

And the music of Rosanne Cash certainly connects and resonates with others. I even heard one member of the audience, sitting behind me at the State Theatre, whisperingly confide to her companion that she was experiencing Cash’s music in a “cathartic” way.

I’m currently reading Caroline Jones’ book, An Authentic Life: Finding Meaning and Spirituality in Everyday Life (Second Edition, ABC Books, 2005). At one point Jones notes that, “We have unique insight embedded in our own life experience, our own story. It is there if only we will search it out and engage with it, to see what it has to teach us.”(p. 84)

I and countless others respect and admire Rosanne Cash for her willingness to search and engage her “unique insight,” and to share this insight so beautifully and artfully through her music. In so doing, she inspires others to undertake their own journeys of self-awareness.

I’ll share an example of the insights of Rosanne Cash – insights gained as a result of the forging of an authentic life. They are insights with which I resonate. Perhaps you will too.

These particular thoughts and insights were published last February in the monthly column Cash writes for her website, shortly after the release of Black Cadillac.

My darlings, there is no need to worry about my immortal soul. Some of you seem determined to save it. But that’s my job, and I’m on it. If I express tremendous doubt in some of [the] songs [on Black Cadillac], I also express profound faith. The record is a map of many things that surround loss: grief, confusion, anger, doubt, faith, transformation, love, despair and hope. There are a lot of questions, not a lot of answers. I love the quote from Rilke: “Try to love the questions in your heart...”

I do, I do. I love the questions, I am empowered by the search, I’m inspired by the exploration, all of which is fundamentally human. I really don’t trust people who say they have no cracks in their faith and never entertain doubt. That’s not faith, that’s fanaticism.

What do I believe in? I believe in a universe that supports our highest potential. I believe that love survives death, and can heal even the most grave damage, given time and trust in the process.

I believe in a God that defies my understanding. I think that my mind is not even close to being large enough to understand what God really is, and this excites me.

I believe there is something outside my own existence that is all-knowing, whose creative potential is so vast that I can barely glimpse even the smallest edge. I believe that when I am in my most creative zone, I am touching that edge, but beyond that, it is unfathomable to me. I also believe that some day I will understand this better.

I believe that I chose my parents, and they chose me, for reasons that I only partially understand, and the same goes for my children.

I believe that the frog in the rain forest inhales the same air I exhale, and that we are all connected on a level that is so profound, so complex, and so basic, that if we got even a momentary insight into this subject, it would transform us.

I believe war is fundamentally wrong, and that at some point in the future, our descendants will look on us as barbarians for conducting ourselves in this way.

I do not believe in Armageddon, which seems to be a popular belief these days. The idea that the world, which is billions of years old (sorry, Pat and Jerry, but you need to go back to third grade science class), will end in MY lifetime, because I am just so special that all things will come to an end once I have graced the planet, is just too narcissistic to even entertain.

I do not believe that any one person has a special hold on God’s ear, but that there are as many ways to God as there are people on the planet, and that God, in His/Her infinite understanding, is able to tolerate a multitude of differences in this regard, since He/She created those differences, partially through the exquisite, complex miracle of evolution. I don’t believe anyone needs to mediate with God on my behalf, and I certainly don’t believe God gives other people messages to give to me. My letter box is always open to receive directly from the Source, thanks.

In turn, I respect your belief in anything, everything or nothing, as long as you don’t try to inflict those beliefs on me. Arrogance and ignorance are a lethal combination, and it seems to pervade some bastions of organised religion at the moment.

A gentleman gave a review of my record on Amazon, and he said that I “dissed” the religion of my father and stepmother. I don’t challenge very many misinterpretations of my work or beliefs, but this one could not go unmentioned. This is absolutely untrue. The religion of my father and stepmother was tolerant, loving, powerful and personal to them, as was the very different religious faith of my mother. I have nothing but respect for that, and for them. My songs are about MY experience, and nothing else. And by the way, they are SONGS, not a diary. Open to interpretation, obviously, but for yourself only.

Gregory Lisenbee sent me this great quote, and for that I thank him: “The unknown is the mind’s greatest need, and for it no one thinks to thank God.”

Wow! You can see why I titled this post “The Beauty and Wisdom of Rosanne Cash.”

For those of you who have yet to experience the music of Rosanne Cash, here’s a clip I found at It shows Rosanne (accompanied on guitar by her husband John Leventhal) performing the Black Cadillac song, “House on the Lake,” on BBC 4 in 2006.

One visitor to the YouTube notes that this song is “one of Rosanne’s most intensely moving songs about her father John and stepmother June and the family home in Tennessee. If you saw Walk the Line, you’ll remember the house on the lake.”

1 comment:

Annie said...

Lucky you for being able to see Rosanne in concert. I've just recently discovered her music and am in a stage of not listening to anything but Rosanne Cash. She and I are the same age, she's been recording forever, and this is the first I've experienced of her. I feel there may be so many others of my age and ilk who have not been made aware of what an intelligent, thoughtful, and talented singer-songwriter she is. I know that she is straight, but I believe that she would be completely accepting of gays and lesbians, would in fact champion their right to love and enjoy equal rights. She is everything that I have spent much of adult life thinking "country" is not, and it turns out I'm the one who was deprived by believing in sterotypes. I would actually find it hard to classify her as a country singer, but her music, I believe, is regularly described as such.

Anyway, it's nice to see others appreciate her as well, though I know she has a large fan base. I'm just late to the party!